I’ll just echo, in my title, the headline of the CBS News report.
Three boys ages 8 and 9 were being held Monday in a detention center on charges of kidnapping and raping an 11-year-old girl in the woods near a suburban Atlanta apartment complex, officials said.Read the full article, and then come back here.
Welcome back. OK, now, there are (at least) three things seriously wrong here. The first, of course, is that it happened at all. And the problem that it exposes goes way beyond four pre-teens.
When I was 9, I don’t think I knew what rape was, much less how to do it or why I would want to. I might have wanted to punch a girl, if she really got me riled — though I was always taught that boys don’t hit girls, so I probably wouldn’t have (and, in fact, I didn’t go around punching boys, either). But at the age of 9, that’s certainly all that would have occurred to me.
What’s changed since then? What are these children learning, from whom, and why? What is it about our society in 2007 that makes it so different from 1967, in that regard? Are we really teaching kids that this is a way to handle aggression?
The story linked above links to another story, from June, which tells us that “Sex Offenders Get Younger, More Violent”:
Courts have seen the number of sex offense cases involving juvenile offenders rise dramatically in recent years, an Associated Press review of national statistics found, and treatment professionals say the offenders are getting younger and the crimes more violent.
Some psychologists blame the increase in numbers — 40 percent over two decades — on a society saturated with sex and violence and the fact that many of the accused were themselves victims of adult sexual predators. Others say there aren’t more children committing such crimes, simply more awareness, better reporting and a general hysteria about sex offenders.
The second thing that’s seriously wrong is that the father of one of the boys is claiming that this was consensual sex, and that the girl is “trying to cover her own butt by getting everyone else in more serious trouble,” another rehashing of the endless and nearly always false argument that rape victims are lying. But on top of that, um... these kids are 8, 9, and 11. How on Earth can they be thought to consent to sex?
I understand wanting to protect one's son. But that has to be limited by the need to make him understand that there are consequences to actions, and that bad actions don't come with excuses and cover-ups.
But the third serious problem is that “prosecutors have not decided whether to try the suspects as adults.”
No, look, I’ll repeat: the boys are 8 and 9 years old. If they did what they’re accused of, they did something really nasty, and they need to be punished for it, but, more importantly, they need to be sorted out as kids, and taught to behave as our society expects them to. No one will be well served by an adult trial, an adult sentence, adult prison, and an adult criminal record for the kids.
Maybe what we need is a system that will handle young offenders as children, with re-evaluation and possible re-sentencing when they’re older. That way, their juvenile sentence could be converted to an adult one, complete with permanent sex-offender status, if we decide, when they’re older, that it’s warranted.
[Hat tip to Lisa S. for the pointer to the CBS story, which has more detail than the AP item that’s in the NY Times.]